Stay cool: The science of ice hockey

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(WIAT) — Happy Weather Wednesday, everyone! 

We’ve now made it to February in Alabama, which means longer days and warmer temperatures. One winter sport, however, is in full swing in Birmingham: ice hockey!

This week, we’re talking all about what goes into maintaining the ice rink at the Pelham Civic Center–home of the Birmingham Bulls–even as we turn warmer moving into the months of spring.

As it turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than spraying the floor with water and turning the A/C down really low. There’s a HUGE system in place to make sure the ice is kept frozen all year round (except for a few weeks in the summer). To construct the solid sheet of ice needed for a hockey rink, there first needs to be a system of pipes built into the floor in order to cool it to temperatures below freezing.

“There are pipes under the concrete floor that’ll get the floor down to 16 degrees,” Michael Bell of the Birmingham Bulls explained. “Compressors will pump glycol through the floor to keep it cold, so once the floor gets to a certain temperature they’ll mist water on it and start building up the layers of ice.”

How well the ice is maintained in the rink using both the compression system and the Zambonis can have an impact on how well a hockey player performs. 

“About every hour roughly…we have the Zamboni come on and resurface the ice,” Bulls assistant coach Craig Simchuk said. “It scrapes down the old snow and it also puts fresh water down to even it out.”

Bigger rinks are harder to keep cold than smaller rinks, which can lead to lower quality ice on rinks that are often larger. 

“You can see the quality of the ice because it’s usually warmer temperatures,” Simchuk said. “The ice is usually a little bit slower and gets chopped up quicker.”

No matter the weather outdoors, the Birmingham Bulls have everything in place that it needs to keep the season going!  For the team’s schedule for the rest of the season, click here to check out the next home game at the Pelham Civic Center.


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